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Ge­orge East gets lost on his way to the Co­tentin penin­sula

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Ge­orge loses him­self in Nor­mandy

Talk about déjà vu. Af­ter all these years of trav­el­ling the high­ways and by­ways of France, I re­cently man­aged to get us hopelessly and ut­terly lost. To make the of­fence worse, it hap­pened in, so to speak, our own back­yard. And in a re­gion about which I have just writ­ten a guide book.

Lost in tran­si­tion We were tak­ing a break from our per­sonal Tour de France, had dumped the col­lapsi­ble (and col­laps­ing) car­a­van in Ardèche and were head­ing north for one of my reg­u­lar en­coun­ters with Bri­tish ex­pats who had made the move across the Chan­nel.

As my wife pointed out, all we had to do was take the toll road and ar­rive in good time in Nor­mandy to find a ho­tel. But I knew bet­ter. Toll roads were for those in a hurry, who had money to waste or did not have the con­fi­dence to go off-piste. Be­sides, we had our trusty sat­nav and road at­las if some­thing went wrong.

So we set off, and it was a pleas­ant run un­til I was re­minded of three po­ten­tial ob­sta­cles to get­ting from A to B in France.

The first is the way those re­spon­si­ble for set­ting French road signs like to help­fully erect one at least ev­ery hun­dred yards un­til a cross­roads or round­about crops up, when they will of­ten be no­tice­ably ab­sent. Another trick is to have them point­ing am­bigu­ously to­wards three pos­si­ble routes.

The other thing I had over­looked was that mi­nor roads are up­dated, amended and some­times re-di­rected, even in ru­ral France. This is okay if you have an up-to-date road at­las and/ or sat­nav. As ours are both more than a decade out of date, you can see the prob­lem.

To cut a (very) long story short, what should have been a dod­dle turned into a dis­as­ter. We ar­rived at our des­ti­na­tion well af­ter dark to find the only ac­com­mo­da­tion avail­able was a top-of-the range coun­try inn, where the eye­wa­ter­ing cost of a room for the night was only ex­ceeded by the price of a mod­est meal for two.

To this must be added the price of the ex­tra fuel, and, be­lieve it or not, hav­ing to pay to cross the same bridge twice. Iron­i­cally, the to­tal of our over­spend was about three times what we saved by not us­ing the toll roads. I would like to think the ex­pe­ri­ence taught me a les­son, but the truth is, as reg­u­lar read­ers will un­der­stand, I doubt it.

Catch­ing up

We were in Nor­mandy to meet a cou­ple who live on the vast swathe of marsh­land that bi­sects the Co­tentin (Cher­bourg) penin­sula.

Lynne and John Lee moved there from the Balearics 13 years ago. An un­usual move from guar­an­teed sun­shine to the brood­ing beauty of the marais, per­haps? “We lived on a pretty but small is­land for three years but were feel­ing a bit con­strained and were look­ing for a change,” ex­plains Lynne. “We chose Nor­mandy be­cause it is such a big and beau­ti­ful re­gion and has easy ac­cess to the UK. We al­ways liked the idea of liv­ing in France and had fam­ily here. Al­though a lot of peo­ple joke about the wet weather in Nor­mandy, we had found the heat in the Balearics too hu­mid dur­ing the sum­mer.”

Lynne and John fell for an old farm­house on the out­skirts of a vil­lage. “The farm­house – which had been in the same fam­ily for 300 years – was in good con­di­tion,” ex­plains John, a for­mer car­pen­ter and builder. “I put in two new bath­rooms, made a room into a study for Lynne’s writ­ing and added a new kitchen and pantry.”

“It’s an ad­van­tage and a dis­ad­van­tage hav­ing a builder as a hus­band,” laughs Lynne. “It’s great to have such a handy man about the house but the down­side is that he’s al­ways in great de­mand for his ex­per­tise from ex­pats who don’t have his skills!”

When John had fin­ished up­dat­ing the farm­house, he started on an old sta­ble block, con­vert­ing it into a gîte. “We re­ally en­joy hav­ing vis­i­tors,” says Lynne, “and we get to meet peo­ple from around Eu­rope.”

And do they miss much about liv­ing in the UK? “Our chil­dren of course, but they’re only across the Chan­nel and come to see us of­ten. And, to be hon­est, coun­try pubs and a good fish and chip shop! But you can’t have ev­ery­thing…”

No turn­ing back So, I ask Lynne, is there a se­cret to suc­cess­fully trans­fer­ring your life to another land? “I don’t know about ‘se­cret’ but there are some ground rules,” she says. “The first and most im­por­tant is to learn the lan­guage – or do your best to. You don’t have to be flu­ent, and the French re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate you try­ing; the plain fact is that you can’t get to know peo­ple and join in with the com­mu­nity if you can’t speak to them. Se­condly, you have to re­mem­ber that you’re in a for­eign coun­try, where they some­times do things dif­fer­ently. You don’t have to stop be­ing Bri­tish – just adapt to the way it is in your new coun­try. We make a point of go­ing to the lo­cal events like the sum­mer fêtes and memo­rial ser­vices – and I’m even a mem­ber of the zumba class!”

And how did the Lees feel when the news came about Bri­tain leav­ing the Euro­pean com­mu­nity? “Ob­vi­ously, it was as much of a shock for us as so many mil­lions of peo­ple in the UK,” says Lynne. “But, af­ter think­ing it through, we’re not wor­ried. We hon­estly can’t see how it is go­ing to change our lives here, and there’s no point in fret­ting about things you can’t do any­thing about.”

When they first heard the news about Brexit, did they con­sider pack­ing up and go­ing home? “Not for more than a mo­ment!” re­sponds Lynne. “We’ve made our lives here. Things may change as we get older or have other rea­sons for mov­ing. But hon­estly (she waves an arm to­wards the end­less marais), would you want to leave all this?”

I look round, lis­ten to the si­lence, think about their lives here and know ex­actly what she means. See you next time!

We can’t see how Brexit is go­ing to change our lives here, and there’s no point fret­ting about things you can’t do any­thing about

Why would any­one leave the tran­quil­ity of the Co­tentin marshes?

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